In Quick Question, Bustle asks women leaders all about advice, from the best guidance they’ve gotten to how they deal with demanding hours. This week, Today show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie talks about female friendship and the rewards of taking risks.
Last month, Savannah Guthrie got a brand-new tattoo, her very first, at age 51. It’s a delicate cursive rendering of the phrase “all my love” in her dad’s handwriting, copied from a letter he wrote before he passed away when she was 16. She got inked alongside Drew Barrymore to commemorate their friendship.
Female “collaboration and cooperation” is a touchstone of Guthrie’s life and a key theme of her new Netflix animated show, Princess Power, which she co-produces with Barrymore, among others. Like her bestselling 2017 children’s book that inspired it, the show reframes the glittery girlhood fantasy, highlighting the importance of grit as much as glamor.
“When you’re in your 20s, that’s the time to trust yourself, to see what you’re made of.”
The Today host has both qualities in abundance. As she said in a 2019 commencement speech, “Your blossoming and your growth — which is to say, your success — is always, always, inevitably, on the other side of a risk. It’s on the other side of a bold choice. It’s on the edge, waiting for you, on the other side of your fear.”
Guthrie has been making unorthodox, bold moves for decades. Back in her 20s, she stunned a federal judge when — after earning the highest bar exam score of 2002 in her home state of Arizona, graduating magna cum laude from Georgetown Law School, and landing a coveted clerkship in his office — she quit to pursue her true dream: television journalism. Her vision and grace under fire have been rewarded with multiple Emmys, and she made history as half of the first all-female duo to co-anchor Today since its inception 71 years ago, for which she was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.
Below, Guthrie talks to Bustle about reinventing yourself, cultivating friends you can lean on, and keeping it real at work.
With Princess Power, did you have a mission to change the messaging that’s traditionally been aimed at young girls?
Definitely. When my friend Alli Oppenheim and I wrote these books, our daughters were 3 and 4 years old. [Guthrie’s older child, Vale, is now 8.] They were just completely enthralled with everything princess-related — glitter, sparkle, gowns, tiaras. Alli and I were saying to each other, “We love that stuff too, but is there a way to let them enjoy what they seem naturally inclined to enjoy, [while] also having a message in there that it’s not just how you sparkle on the outside, but how you sparkle on the inside? That it’s not just what you wear, it’s what you do. It’s the way that you help your community.” At the end of the day, a princess is a young lady in a leadership role. So that was the genesis of the show.
How important have your relationships with other women been to your evolution?
Oh, it’s everything. Women supporting each other, holding each other up, mentoring each other, being there to vent, it’s incredibly important. The show is all about teamwork. And I always marvel to myself that behind the scenes, [the creative team is] a reflection of that spirit. We’re living the message [of the show]. Drew was so wonderful and generous to say, “Can I come alongside you, and can we do this together?” It’s an example of women saying, We’re stronger together.
Have you heard of the concept “parenting loudly” at work? You and your colleagues seem to embody that.
No, I’ve never heard it.
It’s this idea that, as women, we’re encouraged to behave at work like we don’t have a family, and to behave at home like we don’t work. But then your child care falls through or something happens, like when you got poked in the eye by your son’s toy train. What if we were transparent about all of that?
I haven’t heard of the phrase, but I love the concept. Especially on the Today show, Hoda [Kotb] and I are living that every single day. That’s one of the aspects of our partnership that we both appreciate and treasure, because we’re both moms of young kids. We both came to motherhood later in life. We talk about it all the time. We FaceTime our kids during the commercials. We show each other pictures of our kids. We really value parenting. I’ve left early from the show many times for a kindergarten meeting or a school conference. We shouldn’t try to silo off that aspect of our lives, because our roles as mothers enhance our work, our perspectives, our efficiency.
Michelle Obama recently admitted she “couldn’t stand her husband” for the decade when her kids were little, because of the unequal division of domestic labor, the career imbalance. Do you have advice for how to hang on — to our work, our relationships, our selves — during early motherhood?
First of all, we all can benefit from perspective. When your kids are in a phase of not sleeping, or of bringing home every sickness from preschool, or whatever the phase is, I always found it lasted just about as long as [I] could stand it. And then it changes. No stage lasts forever. But in order to have that perspective, you need a break sometimes. I’m a big believer in trying to cultivate a community of other parents so you can support each other. My mom friends have been so valuable to me. My best advice is [to] find your people.
You’ve made major moves, quitting law for journalism, for example. Where do you get the guts to take big risks?
I could talk about this for an hour. Especially when you’re in your 20s, that’s the time to trust yourself, to see what you’re made of. Take a risk. Take an educated risk. Take a thoughtful risk. But take a risk. It’s scary, [and] the outcome is not guaranteed. It may or may not be the happy ending you envisioned. But every time, you will learn something.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.